Smoking Withdrawal Symptoms, Their Timeline and How to Beat Them

As explained in the post on why people smoke, cigarette smoke or tobacco smoking is very addictive due to its nicotine content.

If you suddenly stop smoking, it leads to withdrawal symptoms, which makes it very difficult, though not impossible, to give up smoking. The symptoms will manifest physically and mentally.

The fact is that the smoking habit is very widespread and if you read the post on its alarming facts, you will know how discouraging but truthful they are.

The primary reason people try to give up smoking is due to its serious effects on health. Quitting could be a preventive measure or you could have suffered from some of its problems. Whatever the reason, it is a good decision to quit and you should be prepared to face a little withdrawal inconvenience for some time.

Why do you get the withdrawal symptoms?

A smoker who has stopped smoking spends the first few weeks in a rather difficult state. His body has been used to nicotine levels in the blood and the sudden nicotine withdrawal results in certain unpleasant problems presenting themselves.

The magnitude and duration (timeline) of these symptoms will depend on how heavily he used to smoke. The more he smoked, the more difficult and unpleasant the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal will be.

The nicotine in the tobacco smoke is the culprit that addicts you to smoking. It is as addictive as alcohol, cocaine, and morphine. That is what makes it very difficult to quit the smoking habit.

When you inhale the cigarette smoke, its toxic gases are rapidly absorbed into the blood along with nicotine. Nicotine reaches the brain within 10 seconds after inhalation.

On reaching the brain, it induces the artificial release of dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical, which induces a feeling of pleasure, a feeling akin to a feeling of achievement.

Besides, it can have a variety of effects on the brain:

  • It boosts the mood of the person and gives a sense of wellbeing
  • Reduces depression
  • Increases concentration power and memory
  • It reduces appetite

Your body, therefore, yearns for this feeling of pleasure caused by the artificial release of dopamine when the nicotine blood levels fall. The craving for another cigarette then sets in and you light up again.

This is the main reason why people smoke. And the tobacco smoking habit, though not impossible, is one of the most difficult addictions to break.

Withdrawal symptoms after quitting are signs that your body is slowly recovering from not getting nicotine anymore.

Nicotine Withdrawal Timeline

The worst period of withdrawal lasts only for a few days to a couple of weeks.

Few hours after your last smoke: Nicotine withdrawal manifestations usually begin a few hours after your last smoke. It is the craving for a smoke. How many hours will depend on how frequently you use to smoke.

10 hours down and more: You become restless and may not be able to fall asleep

24 hours later: You are irritable and have a rough morning. You start fights with spouse over minor issues.

48 to 72 hours after your last smoke: Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal peak 48 to 72 hours after the last smoke. They are very strong during the first week. They include a headache, anxiety and mental stress. It is during the first week that you are most likely to start smoking again.

After one week: The worst is over. You feel proud and a sense of achievement creeps in which gives you the power to fight off symptoms, which have now started ebbing.

8 to 12 weeks: The ex-smoker starts feeling comfortable about 8 to 12 weeks after having stopped smoking.

6 months: Almost all smoking withdrawal symptoms disappear after about 6 months.

Symptoms of smoking withdrawal

Symptoms of nicotine withdrawal start within 2 to 3 hours after the last smoke. During the first two or three weeks, these symptoms make the ex-smoker feel quite terrible and stressed, and this is the time when he or she has to exercise a firm willpower not to go for that cigarette.

This is the time where the willpower is tested and the ex-smoker has to remind himself of the reasons and benefits of quitting. Once these few weeks pass, the symptoms of smoking withdrawal decrease in intensity.

Physical Withdrawal Symptoms of Quitting Smoking

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Cold and cough symptoms due to clearing of the lungs
  • Nausea
  • Tremors
  • Tingling and numbness in the hands and feet
  • A feeling of fatigue
  • Increased sweating
  • Increased appetite gradually leading to weight gain
  • Intestinal disturbances causing abdominal pain, constipation and flatulence
  • Insomnia. (Inability to sleep)
  • Tightness in the chest

Mental and Emotional Symptoms of Quitting Smoking

  • Intense craving for a smoke
  • Cannot concentrate
  • Anxiety, irritability, restlessness, impatience and a feeling of depression
  • Swings in moods – predominantly angry
  • Boredom

How to deal with smoking withdrawal?

That you are having smoking withdrawal symptoms is due to the fact that you have decided to give up smoking.

At that time you must acknowledge and accept that you are going to have these physical and mental problems and are going to face them by seeing them through for as long as it takes.

Some of us may face symptoms of a higher intensity while some face mild symptoms. Have a solution ready for each of these symptoms by educating yourself in advance.

  1. One way is to use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), which is safe for almost everyone. They are available as nicotine gum and skin patches.
  2. You could even join Stop Smoking Programs. These are support groups led by professionals, which sort of rub in you the serious effects of smoking and motivate you to give it up.
  3. One such program is Nicotine Anonymous (NicA). It offers scope for face to face discussions that apply the 12 step program of Alcoholic Anonymous to help the person quit smoking.
  4. Another useful way is to try hypnosis. The success rate of hypnotherapy is pretty good at 66%.
  5. Non-nicotine medications are also available to help you deal with withdrawal symptoms. They reduce the intensity of the symptoms and the craving for the cigarette. They are used short-term. Examples include:
  • Bupropion: Brand names include Zyban, Wellbutrin, Wellbutrin SR, and Wellbutrin XL
  • Varenicline is a relatively new medicine used to help you quit smoking. It is presently available under the brand name Chantix